It always cracks me up when loud, straight-talking governor Chris Christie goes silent on important issues. Whether it’s the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, or perennial issues like foreign policy and Washington gridlock, Christie has mastered the art of being loud while remaining silent.
Lately, Christie’s tongue seems tied when it comes to President Obama’s polarizing decision to issue an executive order that will defer the deportation of more than 4 million immigrants. Not only is it a hugely important issue for millions of would-be Americans, it’s a topic that lends itself to opinionated debate. So why are New Jerseyans getting the silent treatment from their travel-happy governor?
It’s not as if Christie has been this shy to talk about immigration in the past. Back in 2009 when he was running for governor, Christie opposed the idea of giving kids brought to the country illegally in-state tuition, noting that you had to pay in with taxes to take out state benefits. “The premise of it is, if you live in this state, if you’re here illegally, you’re not paying taxes, and so you can’t get that benefit,” Christie told the Corzine-weary crowd.
Or course, Christie completely (and correctly) flipped on the issue by 2013, signing the Dream Act in front of hundreds of students. “You’re an inspiration to us because in you we see all that our country can be,” Christie said. “In you we see, most importantly, infinite possibilities of the human spirit.” I wonder if getting reelected with majority support from Hispanics as he seeks higher office helped in this “evolution” on immigration.
Unfortunately, term two Christie looks less like a pragmatic leader willing to discuss tough issues like immigration and more like Neo from “The Matrix” artfully dodging Agent Smith’s bullets.
“I’m not going to discuss a complicated issue like immigration here in Marion, Iowa,” he told The New York Times Magazine back in July. According to CNN, he “sidestepped questions from reporters” after meeting with newly elected House Republicans last week, nothing “he had a train to catch.”
He even had the audacity to dodge direct questions about immigration while on a trip to Mexico.
But his most revealing juke happened back in September in an interview with Politico, where Christie openly admitted it doesn’t benefit him personally to discuss the issue. “Of course. It’s a very important national issue,” I can imagine Christie saying, as he looked down at this watch, “There’s no upside to me at this moment, to be candid, to discuss it. I’m not a candidate for president.”
Longtime Republican operative Chip Felkel, who worked on former President George W. Bush’s two campaigns, thinks it’s wise for Christie to avoid these tough issues, and he may be right.
But “Christie: Politically Careful” is not the tagline I expect the governor to run for president on in 2016. He still bills himself as the only politician who will tell you like it is, but unfortunately has evolved into the type of overly-calculating, eye on the prize insider he derided when running for governor in the first place.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, an estimated 204,000 New Jerseyans could potentially benefit from Obama’s executive order. Those are families that won’t be broken apart. Those are individuals that will escape from the shadows and be able to pay taxes for the first time. Those are young adults who will suddenly see their job and educational prospects improve.
Isn’t that worth talking about, Chris?______________________________________________
Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and WHYY contributor. Follow Rob on Twitter @RobTornoe.